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Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood: is this what counter-revolution looks like?

Amid continued protest in Egypt and the formation of a new government, the Muslim Brotherhood’s position continues to be a source of debate. Joseph Daher has written a new analysis for Counterfire, which begins:

'The Muslim Brotherhood was the largest opposition party during the Mubarak era. Under the Mubarak regime, the Brotherhood was formally banned but nevertheless tolerated. The begrudging toleration, however, did not save its members from frequent arrests and trials before exceptional courts.

The group achieved its best election result in 2005 with independent candidates allied to it winning 20 percent of the seats. The government subsequently launched a crackdown on the Brotherhood, detaining hundreds of members, and instituting a number of legal "reforms" to make them illegal. During the fraud-ridden 2010 parliamentary elections, the government found pretexts to invalidate the candidacies of virtually all Muslim Brotherhood-linked independents.

The Brotherhood leadership backed the revolution from 28th January, while the youth of the party were part of the revolution since day one, from the 25th. The position of the Brotherhood towards the revolutionary process since the fall of Mubarak has been ambiguous. Many protesters in Egypt have characterized the Brotherhood’s behavior as counter-revolutionary, while others say that it is nevertheless the largest and most organised party in the country so there is a need to collaborate with it.'

Read the full article: Egypt's revolution and the Muslim Brotherhood

  • Written by Alex Snowdon
  • Category: Comment

Socialist newspapers: old wine in old bottles?

For readers of a delicate disposition - and with a certain political persuasion - what I'm about to write may be the revolutionary left's equivalent of pissing in the altar. Don't say I didn't warn you.

During my last year as a Socialist Workers Party member, i.e. up to November 2009, I had a habit of expressing views which the leadership, and a majority of my comrades, disagreed with. There was, however, one view I didn't express: that the age of the weekly socialist newspaper may be over. Such a suggestion is rarely voiced on the organised revolutionary left. I never expressed this view because, although it was something I occasionally wondered about, it was hardly the most pressing issue at that time.

There is a tendency in organisations to take certain things for granted. Habits form; routines become fixed. For all the commitment to tactical flexibility, a socialist group can easily become inflexible with assumptions that remain unchallenged. The assumption that any socialist organisation must have a newspaper - probably weekly - is embedded in the culture of this country's revolutionary left.

It is sometimes claimed - by advocates and detractors alike - that the practice stems from the experience of Lenin and the Bolsheviks prior to the 1917 revolution. This is rather fanciful. Iskra and Pravda may be cited as relevant historical references, but the reason is more prosaic: most current socialist newspapers were launched when newspapers were the obvious and most attractive way of communicating ideas.

Socialist Worker, for example, was launched in 1968, when running a newspaper was the natural thing to do if you wanted to convey alternative news and ideas to your target audience. Some grand claims have been made for 'the paper as an organiser', but in truth it's long been possible to build a socialist group without a regular paper.

The one thing a group really can't do without is meetings. The practice of regularly meeting face-to-face is pretty much what defines an organisation - there is simply no substitute for it, even in the age of social media. That's especially true when organising at local level (whether as an independent local group or as part of a larger national organisation).

Some kind of published material has always been vital, of course, but a regular (e.g. weekly) publication is another matter. The need for independent media isn't identical to the supposed 'need' for a weekly paper.

So, in reality, a newspaper has always been desirable for socialist groups primarily as means of political communication. It establishes key political arguments and conveys ideas and information in an accessible way, which helps inform political practice. But its role as an organiser has tended to be rather indirect (and far from indispensable).

The problem today is that there's a mismatch between the chosen means of communication and how people actually communicate. Any socialist organisation's main target audience is the young: the majority of new members will be under 30. Most under-30s today don't read newspapers. Socialists are therefore trying to reach their audience with means of communication that that audience doesn't bother with. This is an obvious paradox.

Consider what has happened in the last 10-20 years. Newspaper circulation has fallen steeply, while internet use has grown and grown. Readers increasingly get their news or politics online. This trend is most pronounced among young people, many of whom have never been regular newspaper buyers in the first place.

Expectations around news have shifted dramatically. News arrives fast. It is common for readers to feel the news in their daily newspaper is already a little stale, especially if they also read online (and if they're a Twitter user it might feel positively ancient). This is an even greater problem for a weekly paper.

We've also seen the rise of the free newspaper. The scrumpled-up Metro newspaper, abandoned by a commuter, is one of the defining features of our contemporary urban landscape. Many young people don't expect to have to pay for their news. They read it online or get it in the Metro for free.

The media landscape has changed massively. We all know this, yet much of the left carries on as if there have been only superficial alterations. Commendable attempts are made to branch out into the internet, but it's assumed the core must remain the paid-for newspaper (despite inevitably making a loss, requiring subsidy from the organisation's members).

The demands of selling the newspaper too often dictate the organisation's cycle of activity, largely irrespective of what is happening in the outside world: the weekly city centre Saturday sale is sacrosanct. Activists are dedicated and hard-working, but this routine - fixed and inflexible - can sadly have a distorting effect on what they do.

The organised left needs to speak the language of those it is engaging with, using the same means of communication. Does this mean there's no place for print? Far from it. It's just unlikely that a weekly, paid-for newspaper is the wisest of investments. Any socialist group today will benefit from a more flexible approach, able to respond dynamically to events in the world outside. The massive commitment of a weekly paper becomes an obstacle.

Anyway, the established groups will probably carry on doing their thing and ignore the observations above. They will continue mixing up the surface elements of Leninist practice and its inner essence, deceiving themselves that methods appropriate to one era are timeless truths. If Lenin did it then it must be correct - despite Lenin's own numerous tactical twists and turns, despite Lenin's repeated warnings not to claim specific methods are universal laws, despite the fact there's been rather a lot of technological change in the last century and perhaps we should let that inform our thinking.

We all agree that we badly need our own media. A left-wing organisation, able to pool resources, is well-placed to contribute to the creation of new, independent and radical media. Socialist ideas remain indispensable, but how they are communicated has to evolve.

Our media need to reflect the world as it is today, not an age which is drawing to a close, and speak to the generations who will shape the future of the Left.
  • Written by Alex Snowdon
  • Category: Comment

Newcastle Counterforum - 10 September

Newcastle Counterforum: The Politics of Resistance

Saturday 10 September - Salsa Cafe (upstairs), 89 Westgate Road, Newcastle

£4 waged/£2 concessions if you register by email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (simply send us your name).

12.30 Registration/introductions

12.45-2pm Arab revolutions: redefining the 21st century?
Speakers: Alex Snowdon (Counterfire editorial team and blogger at http://luna17activist.blogspot.com/) and Pete Ramand (Scotland's International Socialist Group)

2.15-3.30pm Crisis, cuts and mass resistance - is this a rebirth of class politics?
Speaker: historian, writer and archaeologist Neil Faulkner, author of 'A Marxist History of the World' series on http://www.counterfire.org/

3.45-5pm Organising to change the world: what kind of new left do we need?
Speakers: Lucky Dhillon (International Socialist Group) and Tony Dowling (Counterfire)

Discuss some of the big issues facing socialists and campaigners today. Each session will include plenty of time for discussion. Hosted by Counterfire - all welcome!

Also see the Facebook Event for updates.

  • Written by Alex Snowdon
  • Category: Comment

Teaching unions meet to co-ordinate November strikes

This has just been circulated to NUT members from the union's general secretary Christine Blower.

'I'm writing to update you on our pensions campaign and our negotiations with Government.

Following the recent TUC-led discussions, detailed talks will now be held on each public sector scheme including our Teachers' Pension Scheme.

Our strike on 30 June showed the Government the extent of anger within the profession. It had a positive impact on public opinion and exposed the Government's arguments about affordability as untrue.

We remain committed to negotiating an agreement on our pensions. Strike action is always a last resort. There is a real danger, however, that the Government may try to impose arbitrary constraints which prevent agreement happening. The Government has not conceded any of its demands and continues to threaten increases in our pension contributions as a first step from next April.

All of the England and Wales teacher unions met today and began to draw up joint campaigning plans for the Autumn term. We hope the Government will agree to genuine negotiations. However, if the Government will not budge, then ATL, NUT and UCU will have to consider further industrial action in November. NAHT and UCAC have also now decided to ballot their members for industrial action.

For a joint statement from the ATL, NUT and UCU on taking forward the pensions campaign, go to http://www.teachers.org.uk/pensions

The Government has lost teachers' confidence over its handling of our pensions but it now has a final chance to listen to reason.

We wish you a restful summer holiday so that we can all return renewed and refreshed and determined to protect our pensions.'

  • Written by Alex Snowdon
  • Category: Comment

What connects James Murdoch, Jeremy Clarkson, Peter Mandelson, Michael Gove, Rebekah Brooks, David Miliband and Piers Morgan?

Answer: they all attended a party hosted by Elizabeth Murdoch two weeks ago (the above is just a small selection from the guest list).

'It was the highlight of the summer season for the Chipping Norton Set. Rupert Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth and her PR tycoon husband Matthew Freud threw a party of decadent opulence and excess that saw the political and media elite flock to their 22-bedroom Cotswolds mansion Burford Priory yet again.

Just 24 hours later, the news broke that murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's mobile had been hacked by Rupert Murdoch's News of the World newspaper and his global empire was plunged into disarray.'

Read more HERE

  • Written by Alex Snowdon
  • Category: Comment

Protest: clean up the press, clean up the police, clean up parliament

Protest when the Murdochs come to Westminster. 1.30pm, Tuesday 19th July outside Parliament. Rupert and James Murdoch and Rebecca Brooks are being questioned in Parliament on Tuesday over corruption and criminality at the heart of the British establishment. Make sure you are there so they know what we think.
  • Written by solomons mindfield
  • Category: Comment

New poll shows public attitudes in wake of News International crisis

James Murdoch and David Cameron in happier times
An opinion poll for tomorrow's Sunday Mirror and Independent on Sunday is worth taking note of. It's largely good or reassuring news from a left-wing perspective.

The popular backlash against Rupert Murdoch and News International is fierce. 81% agree with the statement 'All of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, the News of the World, The Sun, The Sunday Times and The Times, have been damaged by recent reports of illegal methods used to get stories.' Only 8% disagree.

63% agree with the statement 'As a result of reports of police officers being paid for information by newspapers, I trust the police less'. 22% disagree.

Only 7% agree that 'Rupert Murdoch and his son James are fit and proper people to take full control of Sky TV'. 73% disagree.

What about attitudes to the cuts? 24% agree with the statement 'The Government is cutting spending in a way that is fair to every section of society'. 60% disagree.

67% agree with the statement 'I expect to be worse off personally as a result of the spending cuts'. 16% disagree.

These findings should of course be treated with some caution. It is well established that some people can regard the cuts as unfair and expect to be worse off personally, but still broadly support the austerity programme. This may seem odd, but there's a huge ideological effort to persuade us that - even if cuts will mean you suffer, even if they aren't fair - they are nevertheless 'unavoidable' or 'necessary'.

51% agree with 'In most cases I have sympathy for people going on strike against public spending cuts'. 38% disagree. Interestingly, 73% of Labour voters agree with the statement. Ed Miliband, take note.

Only 33% agree that 'It is right for the UK to take military action against Colonel Gaddafi's forces in Libya'. 40% disagree. Who speaks for the anti-war 40% in parliament? Just a handful of MPs.

The findings on party leaders' personal ratings show a fall for David Cameron, but an increase for Ed Miliband. Cameron has declined from -7% to -12% since June. Milband has improved from -27% to -14%.

This is hardly a ringing endorsement for the Labour leader, but could prove to be a turning point. It isn't clear, though, that News International's crisis is quite as toxic for Cameron personally as some of us might wish. It is still uncertain how things will play out.

  • Written by Alex Snowdon
  • Category: Comment

Fuel poverty: can't pay, won't pay

This report - 'One in five households in fuel poverty as energy prices soar' - is extremely significant, especially when we consider the planned price hikes by British Gas and Scottish Power:

'Figures show a huge rise in UK households in fuel poverty, even before expected rises in the price of gas and electricity, and charities predicted that this winter would see millions more people struggling to keep warm at home.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change statistics show 700,000 more UK families fell into fuel poverty in 2009, bringing the total to 5.5 million — one in five of all households. In the UK, fuel poverty is when a household needs to spend more than 10% of its income on fuel in order to heat its home to an adequate standard, and have hot water and run lights and appliances.

The department admitted that 100,000 more families in England alone were expected to go into fuel poverty this year.

The figures came less than a week after British Gas said its gas prices will rise by an average of 18% and electricity bills by 16%. Scottish Power has also raised its gas prices by 19% and electricity by 10%, while other power companies are expected to follow suit, blaming wholesale gas prices.'

An issue which goes to the heart of British politics today, it is fundamentally about who pays for the bailouts. We are looking at a fall in working class living standards and the poorest being hit hardest, while private firms make a profit and the rich don't notice any difference.

It would be good to see a serious movement - involving a range of trade unions - demanding the energy industry is re-nationalised, and perhaps even a mass 'can't pay, won't pay' campaign (like the one which killed the poll tax) taking off.

Wishful thinking? Maybe, maybe not. It's something we in the anti-cuts movement should be urgently talking about.

  • Written by Alex Snowdon
  • Category: Comment

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